This piece by Bruce Wilson first appeared at Talk2Action.org, and is re-posted by permission.
[Update, March 2, 2012: I have uncovered some additional information concerning the New Apostolic Reformation and the dictatorship of Guatemalan president Efraín Ríos Montt , now on trial, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity carried out by Guatemala's military against civilians during Montt's brief presidential administration in 1982-1983. Montt has ties to C. Peter Wagner's International Coalition of Apostles member Dennis Peacocke - see footnote.]In January 2012, with the inauguration of former military general Otto Pérez Molina as Guatemala’s president, NAR apostle Harold Caballeros took charge of Guatemala’s foreign ministry under the new Molina administration – solidifying Caballeros’ position as one of the most internationally prominent leaders in C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation.
Along with his extensive participation in the NAR, Caballeros’ links to government figures accused of human rights violations and perhaps death squads, and his demonizing of religious beliefs held by Guatemala’s native Mayan population – targeted by the military for massacres and torture during Guatemala’s civil war, raise troubling questions.
Originally trained as a lawyer, Harold Caballeros has pursued graduate studies at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and delivered a keynote addressat a recent major American sociology conference.
But as a parallel track, Caballeros’ involvement in the NAR, and NAR guru Peter Wagner’s demon-obsessed stream of charismatic Christianity from which the movement emerged, traces back over two decades.
In keeping with Wagner’s movement, which demonizes all competing belief systems and calls for the destruction of their religious texts and relics, Caballeros has publicly suggested that Catholics are not Christians and claimed Guatemala and Central America are cursed due to an ancient Mayan pact with Satan.
Guatemala’s Mayan Indians, roughly half their country’s population, have historically held Catholic, and also pre-Christian indigenous, religious beliefs.
One of the first items on Caballeros’ likely agenda as head of Guatemala’s foreign minsitry: as the Associated Press reported January 12, 2012, President Molina wants the U.S. to lift a long-standing ban on military aid to his country, imposed due to human rights concerns.
Molina has long denied the extensively documented, widespread massacres and torture of civilians during Guatemala’s more than 3-decade civil war that killed several hundred thousand men, women, and children, mostly Mayan Indians.
Human right groups have accused Molina of presiding over wartime atrocities, while serving as a general in the Guatemalan military.
Among recent academic studies, Guatemala’s 36-year civil war takes a place alongside other well-known cases of 20th Century mass political violence: Cambodia, Rwanda, East Timor, Armenia, Bosnia, and the Holocaust.
Several European publications, from the independent Ceasefire magazine to the conservative Economist have wondered what Molina’s campaign promise, to address Guatemala’s rampant drug and gang activity related crime rate with an “iron fist”, may portend in light of his past. As the Economist quoted one human rights advocate,
“Anyone who served in the army then “cannot be innocent of the atrocities that happened,” says Fernando Girón of the Myrna Mack Foundation, a human-rights group named for one of the conflict’s victims. Memories of the horrors are still fresh. Last month four former soldiers were each sentenced to 6,060 years in jail for massacring over 200 villagers in 1982. Many were killed with sledgehammers and then thrown down a well.”
Writing for Ceasefire magazine, Sebastião Martins notes that Otto Pérez Molina was trained at the infamous Ft. Benning, GA School of the Americas, which has taught torture and counterinsurgency techniques to military officers of some of the most violent Latin American regimes of the 20th Century.
Molina was also present, notes Martins, in Gautemala’s Ixil Triangle region during the period when hundreds of massacres were carried out on Mayan villages, under the short lived 1982-1983 regime of evangelical president Efraín Ríos Montt .
As researcher and author Sarah Diamond described in her 1995 book Roads To Dominion: right-wing movements and political power in the United States (1995, The Guilford Press), Ríos Montt was converted to charismatic evangelical Christianity when “a group of young California “Jesus freaks” brought their Gospel Outreach church to earthquake-ravaged Guatemala in 1976.”
After his first, failed bid at the presidency, Ríos Montt turned, in 1978, for solace to Gospel Outreach’s Guatemala City Verbo Church. Verbo church elders went on to join Ríos Montt, as powerful civilian advisers within his subsequent presidential administration. Diamond adds,
“some Gospel Outreach members reportedly took part in the regime’s espionage and torture-interrogation operations. Entire villages were annihilated, while Ríos Montt’s U.S. backers justified the “scorched Earth” campaign in religious terms. In one interview a Gospel Outreach pastor defended the killings:
“The army doesn’t massacre the Indians. It massacres demons, and the Indians are demon-possessed; they are communists. We hold brother Efraín Ríos Montt like King David of the Old Testament. He is the king of the New Testament.” ” (page 238)
The founding of Caballeros’ Guatemala City El Shaddai church in the early 1980s reportedly siphoned off much of the Verbo Church membership. Several years after, one of the most notable new members to join El Shaddai was Jorge Serrano Elías, who in 1990 made a successfull bid for Guatemala’s presidency, contending with Ríos Montt (who was popular but forced to withdraw, disqualified due to his tainted civil war record.)
Within the New Apostolic Reformation, Harold Caballeros is acknowledged as one of the pioneers of the movement’s distinctive ideas and practices concerning “Spiritual Mapping”. But as Rene’ Holvast, author of a dissertation and book about the NAR and Spiritual Mapping describes, these practices are anything but apolitical or purely “spiritualized”.
During the 1990 election year, as Holvast describes in his 2005 dissertation (link to PDF of dissertation) written for the University of Utrecht,
“Caballeros started to send out Spiritual Mapping teams on a national level to `clear the way’ for the national elections. The teams did Spiritual Mapping in each state in Guatemala. They identified `three powerful human beings who were being used by the spiritual forces of darkness as strongmen’, two of whom were presidential candidates, rating higher in the polls than Serrano. The first two candidates dropped out after warfare prayer, resulting, according to [C. Peter] Wagner, in a record-breaking victory for Serrano.”
Other academic accounts of Caballeros’ campaign, which was titled “Jesus is Lord of Guatemala”, describe the El Shaddai pastor’s ambitious attempt to reach out to every evangelical protestant pastor in the country, in order to build a prayer warrior army fifty thousand people strong that could break an ancient curse Caballeros claimed afflicted his country.
El Shaddai church flyers distributed in the campaign and written by Caballeros claimed “our entire country was dedicated [in 300 BC] to Satan”.
In his writings, Caballeros has asserted that poverty and violence which have troubled Guatemala and Central America can be blamed, rather than on historical factors such as the legacy of Spanish colonialism or United States military interventions, on a pact that Caballeros says the ancient Mayan people made with Satan through worshiping the serpent god Quetzalcoatl.
Caballeros’ El Shaddai church member Jorge Serrano Elías had a mixed record as president. While he worked to rein in the power of Guatemala’s military and restore civil authority, in 1993 the president attempted an “auto-coup” by illegally dissolving Congress and the Supreme Court, and suspending the constitution. When a broad coalition of institutions and factions refused to go along with Elías’ authoritarian bid, he fled the country.
In 2007 Harold Caballeros himself launched a bid for Guatemala’s presidency. An article in the January 2007 print edition of Charisma magazine, which has served as a de facto journalistic flagship publication for the New Apostolic Reformation quoted C. Peter Wagner concerning Caballeros’ candidacy:
” “Christians in the global South are way ahead of us in this area,” Wagner said. “The values of the kingdom of God should penetrate every level of society, and they understand that. … [Caballeros is] doing it right, going right to the top and taking dominion.” “
In his writings Peter Wagner has elaborated at length about what the “dominion mandate” means and at a 2008 NAR conference declared,
“Dominion has to do with control. Dominion has to do with rulership. Dominion has to do with authority and subduing and it relates to society… Dominion means being the head and not the tail. Dominion means ruling as kings.”
Caballeros’ 2007 presidential candidacy was declared invalid due to an error in paperwork filing with the government. Had the campaign continued, it would likely have been impacted by a scandal that broke out in March 2007, concerning alleged extra-judicial executions said to have been ordered by top Guatemalan government officials, including the head of Guatemala’s National Police force, Erwin Sperisen – who was reported to have then been a member of Harold Caballeros’ El Shaddai church.
In the years following Guatemala’s traumatic civil war, a more recent problem has been a rise in gangs and gang violence. In response, Guatemala has seen a wave of assassinations, known as limpieza social, or “social cleansing”, said to target alleged drug members but which, in practice, are often indiscriminate. In March 2006, as reported in an April 19, 2006 report from the Boston Globe,
“US State Department last month cited extrajudicial killings by police, vigilantes, or former members of security forces as the leading human rights violation in both Honduras and Guatemala. Extrajudicial executions are rarely investigated, and perpetrators are almost never prosecuted, according to human rights group Amnesty International.”
In February 2007, a major scandal broke out when three members of the El Salvadoran Congress traveling in Guatemala were waylaid and murdered by four elite members of Erwin Sperisen’s Guatemalan National Police force. The four, who may have confused the slain Salvadoran politicians with drug traffickers, were rapidly apprehended, placed in prison, then themselves murdered under suspicious circumstances.
The incident gained international media attention, including a March 5, 2007 New York Times story that quoted an unnamed United Nations official who alleged that the death squad activity was tied to Guatemala’s evangelical churches:
“A high-ranking United Nations official here, who requested anonymity to protect his diplomatic neutrality, said he believed the Interior Ministry and the National Police created death squads over the last three years, trying to combat the wave of violent crime by gangs like the notorious Mara Salvatrucha, a group started in Los Angeles by the children of Central American civil-war refugees of the 1980s.The officers in those squads belong to evangelical churches, the official said, and see the extrajudicial killings of gang members, known here as ”social cleansing,” as holy work. But they have also begun to commit crimes for their own profit. ”It gets out of their hands,” the official said. ”They create a Frankenstein.” “
Amidst the ensuing investigation, several top ranking government officials, including National Police head Erwin Sperisen, resigned and later fled the country. But before fleeing to Switzerland, where he enjoys dual citizenship, Sperisen made an appearance on his weekly television show “Valor and Service”, that was broadcast on a Guatemalan network reported to reach up to one million viewers, in which Sperisen stated*,
“La estimulación moral y espiritual estuvo a cargo del Profeta y Apóstol de Cristo, el hermano Harold Caballeros y de su esposa, la profetista Cecilia de Caballeros, de quienes soy humilde servidor, instrumento y medio para llevarlos al Poder de Guatemala y tener un Gobierno de Dios.”( “Moral and spiritual stimulation [for this show] was given by the Prophet and Apostle of Christ, Brother Harold Caballeros and his wife, prophetess Cecilia Caballeros, of whom I am a humble servant, instrument, and means to bring them to power in Guatemala and have a government of God” )
Sperisen then went on to openly acknowledge that church-based government death squads, connected to the Ministry of the Interior, had been carrying out so-called limpieza social and would continue to do so:
“Está no es una justificación, es, más bien, una reconocimiento humilde cuando uno está y es un instrumento de la JUSTICIA DIVINA. … Los escuadrones de la muerte que funcionan aún adentro de la PNC y el Ministerio de Gobernación, son un trabajo santo y está organizado por agentes y personal de las iglesias evangélicas que sabemos nuestras obligaciones con la sociedad… Tengo que reconocer que lo que publicó el diaro New York Times el 5 de marzo de este año, es cierto, la limpieza social que junto a Carlos Vielman como Ministro de Gobernación llevamos a cabo en la institución, se tenia que hacer y se tiene que continuar, como tengo entendido que se ordenó a las nuevas autoridades…”( “It is not a justification; it is, rather, a recognition that when one is humble and is an instrument of DIVINE JUSTICE. … The death squads that still operate in the PNC and the Ministry of the Interior, are a holy work that is organized by officers and staff of the Evangelical churches that know our obligations to society … I have to admit that the story published in the New York Times on 5 March of this year is true; “social cleansing”, with Carlos Vielman as Minister of the Interior, took place at the institution, had to be done and must be continue, as I have understood the new authorities have ordered …” )
It is not difficult to see how Sperisen might have understood Harold Caballeros’ teaching as advocating or condoning extrajudicial killings. In his 2001 book Victorious Warfare: Discovering your Rightful Place in God’s Kingdom (Thomas Nelson, 2001), Caballeros wrote,
“[T]here are persons who dedicate themselves to weaving line of communication with the devil. Usually we call them warlocks or sorcerers. It is men or women who, in order to obtain power, praise, and worship establish covenants with Satan. The result is what we find in the Bible as a strong man, a person who is “connected” to Satan, who serves him, and through whom the devil exercises authority or power over a territory, community, or a social conglomerate… The Scriptures teach us that demons seek a human body in which to live (Matthew 12:43 and Luke 11:24)…Our interest in this subject derives from the fact that we have seen over and over again that when the strong man is vanquished in a given territory, the inhabitants become free to receive the light of the gospel.”
In a chapter Caballeros contributed to the C. Peter Wagner-edited 1993 book Breaking Strongholds In Your City: How To Use Spiritual Mapping To Make Your Prayers More Strategic, Targeted and Effective (Regal/Gospel Light 1993), Harold Caballeros described a case in which one of his El Shaddai Church’s Spiritual Mapping teams was divinely informed that a single individual was responsible, operating as Satan’s local agent, for occult powers that were oppressing a specific geographical area. God then revealed that person’s identity:
“While we were in prayer the Lord spoke and said, “Tomorrow I will give you the man’s first and last name in the newspaper.” He also told us on which page it would occur. It was something absolutely supernatural and exciting to discover right on that page the full name of the person dedicated to these activities.”
Caballeros is one of the stars in the first “Transformations” video, Transformations I (1998), by George Otis, Jr., which depicts charismatic Christians creating mini-utopias by vanquishing demon powers, and humans held to be in league with the demons, from cities, towns, and whole regions.
Along with Caballeros, another star in Transformations I is Kenyan evangelist Thomas Muthee, a “valued personal friend” of C. Peter Wagner who is shown in Otis, Jr.’s video vanquishing, with prayer warfare and also, as shown in the video, the help of local police, a woman accused of witchcraft. Footage that surfaced during the 2008 US presidential election showed Muthee blessing Sarah Palin, in a 2005 church ceremony, against “every spirit of witchcraft”.
In August 2010, the government of Guatemala ordered the arrest of 18 former senior government officials and police, including Erwin Sperisen, for the extrajudicial killings of Guatemalan prisoners. According to a BBC report,
“The arrest orders followed an investigation by the UN-backed international commission against impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).The accused “formed part of a criminal organisation based in the interior ministry (ministerio de gobernacion) and civil police that was dedicated to extrajudicial executions of people detained in prisons,” CICIG said in a statement.
The group was also involved in other crimes including “murder, drug trafficking, money-laundering, kidnapping, extortion and the theft of drugs”, it further alleged.
Among the accused are the former interior minister Carlos Vielman and the former head of the civil police, Erwin Sperisen, both of whom are thought to have fled the country.”
*Footnote: Erwin Sperisen’s April 2007 disclosure, attesting to the existence of government-backed, church-based death squads, on Guatemala’s Canal 27 television station, is described in an academic paper by Dennis A. Smith, Communication, Politics and Religious Fundamentalisms in Latin America, originally presented at a conference of the Latin American Studies Association, for a panel discussion on “Religious Responses To Neoliberalism in Latin America”. As described in his paper, linked above, Smith is a mission co-worker of the Presbyterian Church (USA) who has worked in Guatemala since 1977 and coordinates the Communications Training and Publication program of the Central American Evangelical Center For Pastoral Studies (Cedepca).
*footnote: In his book Dominion: How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, C. Peter Wagner notes the enthusiastic reception that the administration of Guatemalan president Efraín Ríos Montt initially received from evangelical leaders and media, writing,
“I recall the elation among U.S. Christian leaders when Efraín Ríos Montt became Guatemala’s first born-again president back in the early 1980s. He had a noble vision of ending corruption and overcoming the Marxist guerrilla bands ravaging the nation. The U.S. evangelical media, including Charisma, Christianity Today, Pat Robertson’s CBN, Jerry Falwell, Luis Palau and others, raised hope of authentic social transformation of that nation. Palau said of Ríos Montt, “The hand of God appears to be on him.”
Wagner goes on to acknowledge the genocidal level of killing under Ríos Montt but tries to shift blame away from president Ríos Montt himself:
“under Ríos Montt’s regime the violence in Guatemala reached unprecedented heights, with some two hundred thousand fatalities, mostly among innocent, civilian indigenous peoples. He undoubtedly was up against high-level spiritual forces of evil that were having their way. Despite all his good intentions, he could not control his own military, and after only seventeen months in office, he was deposed by a coup. Transformation did not occur despite the backing of the international Body of Christ and influence at the highest governmental level.”
Subsequent developments have cast a shadow over Wagner’s extremely revisionist take on Ríos Montt’s role in Guatemala’s genocidal “dirty war”, with Ríos Montt now on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. As described in a January 27, 2012 Christian Science Monitor post,
“On Thursday, Efrain Rios Montt appeared in a Guatemalan court on genocide charges. During the hearing, the government presented evidence of over 100 incidents involving at least 1,771 deaths, 1,445 rapes, and the displacement of nearly 30,000 Guatemalans during his 17-month rule from 1982-1983, according to the Washington Post, BBC, Siglo XXI (in Spanish), and the LA Times.Rios Montt did not speak during today’s hearings, but it looks like he will be able to test his “I was never on the battlefield” defense. Tonight, judge Carol Patricia Flores determined that there is enough evidence to try Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The prosecution wanted him incarcerated because of his potential for flight but the judge ruled that he can remain out on bail. He has now been placed under house arrest and will be watched by the Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC).”
C. Peter Wagner was somewhat closer to the topic than he acknowledged – one of the longtime members of Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles has been Dennis Peacocke, who was listed as an ICA member from the dues-paying organization’s inception in 2001 up until the ICA put its membership list, previously publicly available on the ICA website, behind a password-protected firewall, in 2010.
But Wagner’s ties to Peacocke go back much farther – the two were original members of the Coalition on Revival. As researcher Rachel Tabachnick describes,
“The Coalition on Revival (COR) brought together Religious Right figures from many different theological backgrounds. In the 1980s, they produced a set of Worldview Documentslaying a ideological foundation for activism to take authority over 17 various areas of culture and government.The Coalition on Revival included several Charismatic leaders who are now a part of the New Apostolic Reformation, including Dennis Peacocke and Bob Weiner, formerly head of Maranatha Campus Ministries. C. Peter Wagner is listed as a signer of the COR’s Christian Manifesto for the Church. The concept advanced in the COR’s 17 Worldview Documents, has now been simplified by apostles of the New Apostolic Reformation into the Seven Mountains mandate, a campaign for taking control of: arts and entertainment, business, education, family, government, media, and religion.”
In 1984, the year that Dr. Jay Grimstead called together the 112 Christian leaders who comprised the Coalition on Revival, and the year after Efraín Ríos Montt was deposed in a coup, COR member Dennis Peacocke held a seminar that featured Ríos Montt as a keynote speaker, according to researcher Sara Diamond.
As described in Diamond’s book Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right (South End Press, 1989),
“Peacocke’s political organization, Alive and Free, is based in Northern California and has sponsored various right-wing conferences including one on “pro-family” issues featuring Phyllis Schafly. In December 1984, Peacocke conducted a seminar, called “Marxism On The Doorstep: Conflict To The South” which included presentations from various intelligence operatives and a keynote address by former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. Peacocke and his associates have also been active in efforts to destabilize Nicaragua.” [Diamond, page 128]
Diamond’s book contains substantial research on the degree to which conservative evangelical missions work, especially by charismatic, born-again evangelicals, aligned during the 1980s with U.S. anti-communist foreign policy initiatives (often covert in nature) that were antagonistic to the establishment of democracies in the developing world and were commonly associated with substantial human rights violations. Writes Diamond, on page 161,
“One of the hallmarks of the Reagan era was the increasing “privatization” of U.S. foreign policy, the government’s deployment of groups and individuals unaccountable to citizens through constitutionally mandated channels. The Christian right has an integral role to play in this “private” pursuit of the “national interest”, particularly in the execution of “total conflict” warfare strategy known as “low intensity conflict”. Briefly, “low intensity conflict” (LIC) posits that in order for the United States to achieve its political objectives in the Third World, what is required even more than brute military force is a comprehensive, coordinated set of tactics designed to create desired attitudes–and corresponding political responses–both domestically and in “target” countries…[...]
But from Vietnam to El Salvador, the euphemisms “low intensity” and “counterinsurgency” translate into real terms: death squad assasinations napalm and, as in Nicaragua, the kind of prolonged economic sabotage that takes its toll in escalated infant mortality rates.” [Diamond, page 161]
The charismatic Christian right has evolved relentlessly since the 1980s, with the development of the Spiritual Warfare/Spiritual Mapping paradigm as one of its signature innovations. The SWSM paradigm appears to function as an extension of “low intensity conflict” doctrine and practice, such that areas of interest to C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation, as designated by George Otis, Jr.’s “Transformations” video series, sometimes converge neatly with countries and regions of especial interest to U.S. geopolitical strategists.
While George Otis, Jr.’s Transformations videos depict political and ideological conflict through a spiritualized lens, C. Peter Wagner made quite clear, in a talk given at a November 2-4, 2006 NAR conference near Seattle, that Spiritual Warfare was part of a continuum of conflict that merges seamless with actual warfare. In the talk, Wagner expressed his strong dislike for anti-war movements which, he suggests, may be under satanic influence (video link, to Wagner’s 2006 talk):
“we must reject anti-war movements. We must reject anti-war movements. And I have, I hate to report it, well I hate to report that one of the things that’s slowing us down in the war in Iraq is anti-war movements.I mean, I remember Vietnam – you know, don’t you? I mean, you know who helped, who helped – ’cause that’s the first war we ever lost. You know what helped us lose that war? – Jane Fonda. See? Now, she’s changed back, she’s been converted and everything since but I’m telling, but some of the influences she had, in the anti-war movement, she didn’t help America, she helped the enemy. See? And, um, and we can’t put up with this in spiritual warfare. We can’t put up with anti-war movements.
And, there are some, I hate to report it, there are some people who are against war. And I think that should stop. I think the whole Body of Christ needs to get on the page that we are in war.
There are some people who are against Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare – remember what I said that is – principalities and powers? And there are some people who are against Ground Level Spiritual Warfare. Casting out demons.
I mean, they won’t admit that but, but they will not allow any church in their whole denomination to have a deliverance ministry and – well I’ll get to that, let me take these one by one. Let me just explain the strategic level and then the ground level, and then what the anti-war movements have.
And the reason I’m saying this, and putting it on the DVD, is because I think it needs to be exposed. We can’t just go along and pretend that everything in the Body of Christ is OK, because it’s not OK in this particular area. We’re not, there are people who don’t – I can’t help but thinking that the enemy is encouraging them.”
Case study: the Acholi of Northern Uganda
The example of the Acholi of Northern Uganda presents a case study of the divergence between the New Apostolic Reformation’s mythologized narratives, depicting the application of Spiritual Warfare/Spiritual Mapping, and the horrific underlying realities that can lie beneath such propagandistic veneer.
George Otis, Jr.’s 2005 video An Unconventional War depicted NAR apostle Julius Oyet supernaturally triumphing over the Lord’s Reformation Army, which had been preying on the Acholi tribespeople of Northern Uganda’s Gulu region, such that the LRA was defeated by 2005, with peace slowly returning to the to the conflict-wracked region.
Produced with help from Yoweri Museveni’s presidential media team, An Unconventional War functions as government propaganda that obscures the real nature of what has happened in Northern Uganda since the mid-1990s.
The real sources of the conflict, it is likely, have little to do with spirituality and stem from inter-tribal racism and competition, on the part of wealthy and powerful agents within the Ugandan power structure, for access to rich deposits of minerals and oil, and fertile farmlands, of Northern Uganda.
In the late 1990s, at least one million Acholi tribespeople were forced into concentration camps along Northern Uganda’s border, by the Ugandan army. In some cases, the Ugandan army shelled Acholi villages to drive Acholi into designated concentration camp areas.
In the crowded, poorly-protected concentration camps, the Acholi languished for the better part of the decade. While the camps were ostensibly defended by Ugandan army troops – which had a tendency to melt away during Lord’s Reformation Army attacks.
But the most pernicious impact was probably epidemiological and nutritional. In the early years of the concentration camps, the Ugandan government made little to no provision to insure that Acholi in the concentration camps had adequate access to food, water, and medical care. Consequently, during the years of internment Acholi were dying in the camps at a rate estimated to be approximately one thousand excess deaths per week – especially from malnourishment and disease.
During the period of Acholi internment, the population group was the focus of intense international media attention due especially to Lord’s Reformation Army kidnapping of Acholi children, and evangelical missions organizations treated the Acholi as a fruitful target for evangelizing. But, as writer Jane Bussmann observes, media failed to ask the simple question – how did the Acholi wind up in concentration camps in the first place?
[2008 video, below, presents plight of the Acholi. See, especially, 2:59]
described by the New York City-based Blackstar News service, which has covered extensively the human rights abuses of the Museveni regime,
Nearly 26 years ago, shortly after Ugandan president General Yoweri K. Museveni came to power, his regime began herding about two million people — nearly 90% of the Acholi population, into concentration camps euphemistically referred to as Internally Displaced People’s camps (IDPs).At the height of the displacement period, the death rates in the more than 200 camps that eventually mushroomed was more than 1,000 per week, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), a unit of the United Nations. People in the camps died from planned neglect. Lack of food, lack of water, lack of adequate sanitation, lack of medical facilities, and; targeted rapes which spread diseases, by government soldiers.
In the nearly quarter century of the camps’ existence, it is possible that more than one million Acholis perished — a conservative estimate, using the UN statistics referenced. The camps were ordered closed by the WHO in 2005.
The widespread belief during the height of the forced displacement of the Acholi was that Gen. Museveni sought to collectively punish all Acholis for their perceived opposition to his regime. Acholi soldiers comprised the bulk of the army defeated by Museveni’s insurgency.
[below: In 2010 video, Ugandan opposition party leader Olara Otunnu outlines case of alleged war crimes perpetrated by the Ugandan army upon the Acholi.]
Blackstar News noted, Yoweri Museveni has been accused of intentionally engineering a slow genocide against the Acholi, and in late 2010, American academic David Todd Whitmore, who studies Acholi culture and its relationship to Christianity, produced a memo, allegedly written in 1986, by now-president Yoweri Museveni, to his bother Salim Saleh, that sketched out a plan to depopulate the SAcholi region of Northern Uganda:
“The memo, titled, “Subject: RETHINK” describes an aerial flyover of northern Uganda by Tremor 1, and his subsequent change of mind on policy towards the North. Previously, Tremor 1 thought that the victorious National Resistance Movement (NRM) should forget about the “backwards northerners,” particularly “the Chimpanzees called Acholis,” due to the lack of developmental prospects in the North. However, the flyover changed Tremor 1’s mind. There is a “Gold Mine” of fertile land in the North. Therefore, it is best that the NRM take it over. Such control, says Tremor 1, will require finding ways to “drastically reduce the population” and to “eliminate some old politicians who are likely to give us troubles.” “
A May 18, 2007, ABC News story by Asa Eslocker – one of the few mentions of the ongoing suffering of the Acholi to be found in U.S. mainstream media – described,
“Documentary filmmakers in Uganda were subjected to intimidation and coercion and were the victims of break-ins while attempting to film what a former U.N. official calls “Uganda’s secret genocide” in the northern part of that country. The filmmakers say these threats came from Ugandan officials and secret intelligence organizations there… Despite the efforts at intimidation, the filmmakers obtained dramatic footage of what they say is fresh evidence of atrocities and inhumane living conditions in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, where millions of displaced Ugandan minorities live in squalor and disease. The filmmakers says it’s a humanitarian crisis that has been covered up by the Ugandan government and largely ignored by the Western media. “We walked across mass graves, through an inferno of burning huts and across a field of bodies that were just left to decompose by a government that didn’t even care enough to dig a hole and bury them,” said Tiffany Gravel, the American director, as she recounted her trip through Uganda’s northern civil war-ravaged countryside in 2006. “
As the Blackstar News service details, while the Acholi have gradually left the internment camps since 2005, tens of thousands now face eviction from their lands, by an internationally-connected Ugandan investor with ties to the Museveni regime. The Acholi are also fighting for a portion of revenues from oil fields due to be opened in their region in 2012.